Collision alert! Ford gets cars to wirelessly talk to each other

Automakers and federal regulators are working on a project that will allow vehicles to communicate with each other via a Wi-Fi-style wireless network. Further, the project could--at some point in the far future--spill into the cell phone industry by inserting broadcasting modules into phones that would alert drivers of the location of pedestrians (at least, those carrying cell phones).

Ford intelligent vehicles

Click here to see how Ford's technology would work in the real world.

Ford demonstrated the technology recently at its headquarters in Dearborn, Mich. The system relies on wireless modules embedded in vehicles and operating on 5.9 GHz radio waves. Each vehicle in the demonstration broadcast its location and speed to the other vehicles, thus alerting drivers if another vehicle was in their blind spot, for example, or if the lead car in a line of traffic suddenly slammed on its brakes.

Like Wi-Fi, the signal can only travel several hundred feet, but information can be transmitted from one car to another.

Mike Shulman, technical leader of the Ford Active Safety Research and Innovation division and a part of the automaker's "intelligent vehicles" effort, acknowledged the program will take years to get off the ground. He said Ford is currently working to show that the technology works. Once the technology is proven to function properly and prevent car accidents, the next step would be for federal regulators to require that all new and existing cars be outfitted with the technology.

Shulman pointed out that today's smartphones feature a bevy of wireless technologies, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and other transmission protocols, and that the addition of another such technology--the one powering Ford's "intelligent vehicle" demonstration--could help prevent additional accidents.

The intelligent vehicle modules aren't the first wireless connections Ford has installed in its cars. The company currently embeds Wi-Fi and cellular connections in some of its higher-end autos, and offers a service--dubbed Sync--that connects users' smartphones to their vehicles.

For a closer look at Ford's intelligent vehicle research, and real-world scenarios for the technology, check out:
- this Ford video
- this photo essay

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